What’s the best leadership style?

What’s the best leadership style to have? The good news is there is no one best style. It depends on the situation. Goleman* came up with six classic leadership styles:
  1. The pacesetting leader expects and models excellence and self-direction. “Do as I do, now.”
  2. The authoritative leader mobilises the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual. “Come with me.”
  3. The affiliative leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of belonging to the team / organisation. “People come first.”
  4. The coaching leader develops people for the future.  “Try this.”
  5. The coercive leader demands immediate compliance. “Do what I tell you.”
  6. The democratic leader builds consensus through participation. “What do you think?”

All of these leadership styles are useful. It’s a matter of knowing when to apply the right one. A democratic leadership style is good when you want to get lots of input from people on a subject. It’s not appropriate in an emergency. Asking everyone what door they think should be used in a fire is not useful. Coercive leadership is required – “get out through this door, now!”

We use the analogy of car gears. Using Goleman’s model, leaders have six gears available to them depending on the terrain they need to cover. But most leaders are stuck in one or two gears! We’ve worked with leaders who are stuck in the pace setting gear. This gear is okay in short bursts, but used all the time it burns people out.

So our advice is first, be aware you have a default leadership style. Second, appreciate there are other styles available to you. Third, become fluent in other leadership styles so you can shift smoothly between them and apply the right style in the right situation.

In our leadership and team performance workshops we often use DISC, a behavioural style profiling tool, to identify leadership styles. After completing an online survey, participants receive a report showing their behavioural style and the associated strengths and pitfalls. The report contains insights for how to adapt your style to suit the situation and the people you lead.

* Daniel Goleman, “Leadership That Gets Results” Harvard Business Review